David Cramer, John Harold Luebbers’ attorney, began his opening statement of the trial by admitting that his client shot and killed Louisiana Schnell School Principal Sam LaCara on Feb. 2, 2011. Luebbers would later be convicted of murder.
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“There’s no disputing that fact at all,” Cramer said, noting he was not surprised at the charges brought against his client. “It could be murder, but looks can be deceiving. This case is about one thing — was there malice and forethought?” Cramer claimed that the killing of LaCara was an act of passion over a “sudden quarrel.”
Deputy district attorney Joe Alexander disagreed. He said that to understand that case, the jury must understand what happened in the days before the shooting.
“Tension arose from a hiring decision” of a night-time janitor, who would work opposite Luebbers, Alexander said. This led to multiple arguments between Luebbers and LaCara. This, in turn, led to Luebbers shooting LaCara three times with a .357-magnum revolver in LaCara’s office, just days after the two went golfing together.
On the second day, Dr. Stephany Fiore, a forensic pathologist with the Sacramento Coroner’s Office, explained how one bullet was almost instantly fatal, one would have been fatal without immediate treatment and one bullet, which first traveled through a desk, did not penetrate LaCara’s skin.
While Alexander asked many questions of the witnesses during direct examination, Cramer was light on the cross-exam.
“I don’t have the burden of proof,” he said during a break regarding his strategy. He only needs to prove it was manslaughter, he said. “I don’t believe first-degree murder was proven.” The defense would call no witnesses during the trial.
“There is only one reason to bring a loaded gun to an elementary school,” Alexander said during his closing statement, noting that Luebbers made a phone call to LaCara’s office so that he was sure of the principal’s whereabouts. “It’s a big revolver, a gun with a purpose — that purpose is the murder of Sam LaCara.”
Alexander said the three shots the two-handed grip and what Luebbers had said to LaCara and others in the days leading up to the shooting demonstrated all of these. Luebbers was also told to “Go home and cool off” by LaCara, which gave Luebbers about a half-hour to get his gun and think about his action, Alexander said. He entered the office with a loaded gun, headed to LaCara’s office “directly and briskly,” and started “shooting without hesitation.” The matter started almost 20 hours beforehand, Alexander said, and that the phone calls Luebbers made to him were “Sam’s last chance to agree with the defendant, and he doesn’t. So the defendant acts.”
Cramer then gave his closing statement, reiterating that he was not arguing that Luebbers killed LaCara. But he said that Alexander had “not proven beyond a reasonable doubt” that it was first-degree murder.”Based on the evidence, he had malice aforethought,” Cramer said. “But what he did not have is deliberation and premeditation.” He said Luebbers acted “rashly, impulsively and without careful consideration.”
The jury began deliberations around 11:30 a.m. on April 24, and Judge James R. Wagoner announced the jury had a verdict at 1:23 p.m. on April 24. The jury returned a verdict of guilty in the charge of murder in the first degree and found all three special allegations true. As the clerk read, both a sigh and a sharp intake of breath were heard from the crowd, with one woman loudly saying, “Oh, thank God.” Many audience members hugged each other with tears in their eyes as they left the courtroom.
Luebbers would be sentenced to 50-years-to-life, with life on parole after his sentence is served. He was ordered to pay more than $20,000 restitution, but $10,000 would be stayed if parole was not violated. Restitution could be paid from any retirement fund or prison earnings.